I was about 5 or 6 years old when I got my first pair of glasses. Everyone in my immediate family, my parents and my siblings, they all had perfect vision. So no one thought I might need some help seeing. Until, I think, in kindergarten or first grade the teacher reported to my parents that I seemed to be squinting a lot at the board, sometimes actually getting out of my chair and walking up to it to see what was written there. So my teacher told this to my parents and they hurried me off to the opthalmologist, I got my eyes tested, and about two weeks later I got my first pair of glasses.
And I do not really remember this experience but my mom did tell me about that first ride home from the eye doctor. She said she could hear my voice coming from the back seat, exclaiming in wonder and awe at the things I could now see in the world.
“Look! Look at the leaves on the tree!”
“Look, there is a dog walking down the sidewalk, not just some blob.”
“Look at the flowers and the birds….aren’t they beautiful?”
As a child I did not know that world looked that way until I got those glasses. And sometimes I have that same experience when I encounter certain passages of scripture, like the parable we hear Jesus sharing this morning.
Certain passages of scripture bring a clarity, a crispness to my vision of the world and help me see, perhaps, a glimpse of how God sees the world.
And we can see this even in the way this parable is written. There is a tremendous amount of detail in these few short lines. As a reminder this is one of a series of parables, of stories, that Jesus is telling the people that the writer of Luke/Acts describes as “Pharisees and sinners and tax collectors.”
And Jesus, I think, starts kind of gently with these parables. We get these lovely, sort of warm and fuzzy stories of lost sheep and lost coins. And then I think he starts to get a little more pointed as he goes along, we hear the parable of the prodigal son, the parable of where to sit at the wedding banquet, and then the dishonest manager.
And then we land on this parable, the only parable in the Gospels in which two of the characters are named. And the details with which Jesus tells this story are very precise. He describes the clothes that the rich man is wearing, fine linen and a purple cloak. These clothes that, at the time Jesus would have been sharing this story, were reserved only for priests and kings. In fact there is a story in history that the emperor Caligula, a little bit after Jesus’ life, had a visiting foregn king (who was the grandson of Cleopatra and Marc Antony) murdered for having the temerity of wearing a purple cloak when he came to visit Rome.
And then we get this image of Lazarus at the gate, brought every day there by his friends, covered with sores, filthy and hungry, yearning for just a few crumbs. The only kindness he encounters is from the dogs who come and sit by his side.
There is such clarity of vision and detail in this story and I think the clarity parallels, perhaps, or gives us a sense of what Jesus is calling the people who were listening to him that day and calling us to hear in this story.
I’ll just say up front, my friends, that I do not think this is a parable that is meant to be a blueprint for us of what happens after we die, a sneak peek at the afterlife. Rather I think this is a blueprint of how we are called to live, a vision of how God sees the world.
And we see this in the sort of contrasting visions of what the world thinks is important and the way God thinks about the kingdom and how we are called to live.
We have the story of the rich man who builds a gate around his house so he does not have to see people like Lazarus near his windows. Building gates and doors to keep out people so he can enjoy the safety and comfort of his home away from the world. But in the context of this parable, in the context of the vision of God, that gate becomes a chasm, a chasm over which the rich man is looking and can barely glimpse God. It becomes a chasm that separates him from the kingdom of heaven.
We have a vision of the feasts the rich man enjoys in this world, sumptuously eating with his friends. But in the vision of God that feast becomes meager food indeed when compared to the heavenly banquet that Lazarus enjoys with Abraham and all the saints.
And the frustrating thing about this parable is that the rich man still does not get it. Right? He’s in hell, he’s being tormented and still he’s trying to act in the way he acted in the world. He’s ordering Abraham around, asking him to send Lazarus down to serve him. The rich man can not lose that vision of the way the world has told him things are supposed to work and open himself up into the vision of the kingdom of God.
And I do not think this is unique to the first century, indeed I know it is not. When I was reading this parable I was reminded of sociological study I read about conducted by some scientists at the University of California at Berkeley. And in it they had subjects come in and play Monopoly. But the Monopoly game was rigged so that certain subjects, certain players, were given advantages in the game. They either collected double the money when they passed Go or they were given more properties to begin with. And the scientists observed how these players, who had the advantages, interacted with the players who were subject to the regular rules of the game.
And the scientists observed that about 15 minutes into the game, the people who had been given the advantage in the system began to behave differently. They began to move their pieces around the board very aggressively. The began to eat more pretzels. In fact one player who was given advantages in the game was observed telling the other player all the great skill he had brought to the game and that was why he was winning.
The system, the way the world works, the way the world tells us we are to find safety in wealth and privilege, in success, that way of the world is in direct opposition to the vision that God has for the kingdom.
And it hard to strip away the world tells us to see and see with the eyes of God, but I think my friends, that in this place we are sometimes given a glimpse of the way God sees the world.
My first full Holy Week was spent in this place. I participated in catechumenate with Mother Esme, with a few folks who are here now. And I remember that as a group we were encouraged to come to all three services of the Triduum during Holy Week. And we came and ate an agape meal that I think Yetunde cooked and we came and washed each others feet and we had our feet washed.
And I remember coming to my first Good Friday service ever here in this sanctuary. And I was moved and I was stunned and I was confused by what I saw. And I remember leaving and it was dark outside and I got home and I did not really have a sense of what was happening. And there were so many feelings and ideas running through my head and I just kind of collapsed into bed.
And then I woke up the next morning and I looked across the room at the clock and for the very first time in my life I could read the clock. And for about 30 seconds I was overwhelmed by this idea and I thought “Oh my God, what I experienced as healed me, God has healed me! And I can see! I no longer have this astigmatism and I can see without my glasses.” And then I realized, no I had gone to sleep with my contact lenses in.
But my friends, I think what might not have been literally true that morning was metaphorically and spiritually true for me. My experience in this place, my experience of encountering God in those ancient stories told, the stories of Moses and the prophets that Jesus talks about in today’s parable, those stories shifted something in me. And I no longer saw the world in the same way.
And I think that is something we are given the opportunity to encounter every time we come together in this place.
When we look through the lens of the Eucharist, the bread and the wine become a feast of unending life, a heavenly banquet where all are welcomed.
When we look through the lens of Christ’s death and resurrection we can see that death is no longer the end but the beginning of new and unending life in God.
And when we look through the lens of love we can see perhaps the kingdom, the world, perhaps as God sees it. Everyone, everything, infused with the Holy Spirit and beloved of God.